Global arms sales reached new heights, according to a recent report by a think tank in Sweden. Despite the global recession, the sales, both domestic and exports, of the world’s most profitable arms-producing companies increased by nearly $15 billion from 2008 to 2009, reaching a total $400 billion in arms sales throughout the world — the highest amount ever. Other estimates put that figure as high as $1 trillion.

The report from Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) shows that the arms industry is thriving despite the ongoing global economic recession. American company Lockheed Martin took first place with $33.4 billion in arms sales, followed by British BAE Systems at $33.3 billion. Even as the recession hangs on in every country, more and more is still spent on the military.

Companies in the United States make up nearly half of world sales, according to the SIPRI report, with 45 of the top 100 arms-producing companies based there. Recently Russian companies have been a close second, though its figures, like those of the seventh-largest arms producer, China, are hard to verify.

In nearly every region of the world, arms-producing companies, many of them also exporters, have increased their sales year on year. The fastest-growing expenditures have been in Asia.

Not to be left out, Japan had four companies on the list of top 100 arms-producing companies, though their total sales were less than most. Those four weapons producers — Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (No. 27), Mitsubishi Electric (No. 44), Kawasaki Heavy Industries (No. 59) and NEC (No. 77) — had profits ranging from $2.8 billion in arms sales for Mitsubishi Heavy to $770 million for NEC.

These Japanese companies, it should be noted, are not primarily military. Typically less than 10 percent of their overall profits come from arms. Nor do the companies generate solid sales from exports — unlike companies in almost every other country. Japan’s arms are “consumed” at home.

It is good that Japan’s long-standing ban on weapons exports stands in force, but the money spent domestically competes with other parts of the national budget.

With so much need in other sectors of the economy, military expenses are one of the heaviest burdens of any national economy. Japan’s long-standing ban on weapon exports confirms Japan’s commitment to peace, but reducing production and expenditures would confirm its sound economic sense.

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